Fort Saskatchewan business owner Nathan Yusep doesn’t want to see his rights trampled on.
Yusep was one of six people who showed up at a Tuesday night (Sept.11) public hearing to speak against a draft smoking bylaw that passed first reading two weeks ago.
City council and staff have been working for months to prepare for October 17’s federal legalization of recreational cannabis use. The proposed bylaw covered all types of smoking, including tobacco, cannabis and vaping – had it gone into effect, smoking in the city would have been allowed only in designated smoking areas established by property owners.
Yusep, owner of local shop River City Cigar, doesn’t want to see smokers banished to designated “circles.” Yusep brought out a framed photograph of his grandfather, a World War Two veteran, to show council, staff and members of the public.
“He was the last of three boys on the farm,” Yusep said. “Didn't have to go to Europe and fight. He volunteered to do so. He did so for my right to smoke today, whether you like it or not.”
Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, was the only member of the public to voice support for the smoking bylaw. Hagen also spoke at a hearing earlier this year to advocate for tougher smoking restrictions in Fort Saskatchewan. He argued that children need healthy role models, not exposure to smoking.
"To a five year old, smoking is smoking, whether it involves tobacco, cannabis, burning, vaping, cigars. We believe that children and youth deserve protection," he said.
Resident Howard Johnson also let council know his thoughts, saying that the proposed bylaw was trying to solve enforcement problems that don’t yet exist. Local law enforcement has said at previous meetings that trying to enforce a bylaw that applied only to cannabis smoking would be difficult.
Howard argued that it’s easy to figure out what substance a person is smoking through simple observation.
"To identify what you're smoking, I don't think that's a big issue,” he said. “I don't think there would a problem with police enforcement to find out what the heck you're smoking if you're watching a person smoke."
Howard wants to see cannabis treated the same way as alcohol, not tobacco.
“Cannabis is a mind-altering product. Smoking is not,” he said.
Fort Saskatchewan Golf and Curling Club manager Darren Shackleton shared his concerns that the proposed smoking ban would hurt business, saying that in 20 years he’s heard zero complaints from customers about smoking.
Shackleton said that the smoking ban could send some customers elsewhere, costing him as much as $100,000 in lost business.
In an ensuing discussion council decided to abandon the draft smoking bylaw and instead reconsider an earlier version of the bylaw first presented in May. They voted 6-1 to send the earlier version back to staff for more revisions.